Press release April 6, 2023
NEW REPORT: More Governments Engaged in More Transnational Repression during 2022
Perpetrators from a total of 20 states were responsible for 79 incidents of physical transnational repression last year, including the first documented cases originating in Djibouti and Bangladesh.
WASHINGTON—More governments are committing more acts of transnational repression around the world, turning to violence and other brutal tactics to silence dissent beyond their borders, according to a new report released today by Freedom House. The study finds that 20 governments committed 79 incidents of physical transnational repression in 2022, with Djibouti and Bangladesh emerging as perpetrator states for the first time.
The report—Still Not Safe: Transnational Repression in 2022—also finds that at least 854 direct, physical incidents of transnational repression have been committed by 38 governments in 91 countries since 2014, including assassinations, abductions, assaults, detentions, and unlawful deportations. The governments of China, Turkey, Tajikistan, Russia, and Egypt ranked as the most prolific perpetrators of transnational repression.
“Despite growing awareness of the problem, more authoritarian governments are attempting to exert control over diaspora and exile communities,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “This latest research shows that the threat posed by transnational repression is not going away, and that democratic societies must work harder to protect themselves and their fundamental values.”
Key report findings include:
- China’s government is the world’s most prolific perpetrator of transnational repression, accounting for 253 incidents, or 30 percent of all recorded cases of direct, physical transnational repression since 2014.
- The government of Turkey has carried out 132 incidents of transnational repression. Ankara has abducted more people via renditions than any other state in the database, and this practice continued in 2022, with two new kidnappings from Ukraine and Azerbaijan.
- Russia’s regime and its devastating war against the people of Ukraine have intensified patterns of transnational repression across the region, from Central Asia to Europe. Moscow has perpetrated a total of 46 incidents of transnational repression since 2014. The Kremlin also routinely helps other governments target dissidents on its soil; 110 incidents have taken place in Russia since 2014.
- Tajikistan’s government used long-established practices of security cooperation with Moscow to undertake an extensive campaign of transnational repression, especially against members of the Pamiri ethnic group from the country’s Gorno-Badakhshan region. Cases perpetrated by the Tajikistani state accounted for 27 percent of the incidents recorded globally in 2022.
- Journalists have been the targets of 97 incidents, or 11 percent of all cases, of physical transnational repression identified by Freedom House since 2014. This total includes the brutal 2018 murder and dismemberment of dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate.
“People who criticize authoritarian regimes, whether they are professional journalists or ordinary citizens, are often singled out for harassment and even violence,” said Yana Gorokhovskaia, the report’s coauthor and Freedom House’s research director for strategy and design. “The world cannot allow these repressive governments to restrict media freedom and personal expression abroad even as they shut down independent outlets at home.”
American citizens and permanent residents are not immune to the threat of transnational repression, the report notes. In November, Sherif Osman, who holds US and Egyptian citizenship, was detained for seven weeks in Dubai based on a request from Egypt. In August, US authorities uncovered a new plot to harm Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad while she was living in New York City. Despite such cases, the US, British, and other democratic governments have maintained high-level diplomatic cooperation with perpetrator states, including on migration policies, which undermines their declared commitment to address transnational repression.
The new report recommends a number of steps that host governments, civil society organizations, and technology companies can take to protect exiles and diasporas, increase accountability for abuses, and constrain the ability of authoritarian states to commit transnational repression.
“We welcome the introduction in Congress of the Transnational Repression Policy Act, which would focus US strategy on combating this dangerous method of authoritarian influence, and we are encouraged that several democratic governments have recently endorsed the Declaration of Principles to Combat Transnational Repression,” said Abramowitz. “There is much more work to do, but these are important signs that policymakers recognize the need to stand up for human rights, democratic values, and national security.”
Recommendations for further action include the following:
For governments that host exiles and targeted diasporas:
- Establish an official definition of transnational repression as a first step that will enable officials to recognize and respond to the problem.
- Establish training for government officials who may come into contact with perpetrators and victims, and develop a specific mechanism to track domestic incidents of transnational repression.
- Ensure that potential victims are able to seek asylum, avoid shifting responsibility for asylee processing to third states, and strengthen existing refugee resettlement programs.
For civil society organizations:
- Develop programming for individuals and groups affected by transnational repression, including digital-security training and social, psychological, legal, and immigration support.
For technology companies:
- Strengthen user options for documenting transnational repression on digital platforms, including tools that allow individuals to filter, review, and report incidents in a convenient but private way.
- Publicly identify perpetrators of digital transnational repression and describe the methods and scale of their activity.
View the report’s complete recommendations here.
The new report is the latest in Freedom House’s ongoing efforts to document cases of transnational repression around the world. Freedom House released the first comprehensive global survey of transnational repression—Out of Sight, Not Out of Reach—in 2021, and a follow-up report—Defending Democracy in Exile: Policy Responses to Transnational Repression—in 2022.
Freedom House is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to create a world where all are free. We inform the world about threats to freedom, mobilize global action, and support democracy’s defenders.
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